Vitamin D Cancer Prevention and Other New UsesMarch 2006
By Russell Martin
Lowering Gingivitis Risk
High blood levels of a vitamin D metabolite are associated with a decreased risk of the gum disease gingivitis, according to a recent report from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Researchers at Boston University analyzed data from 6,700 nonsmokers, aged 13-90+, from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.30
The investigators analyzed blood levels of 25-hydroxyvitamin D and assessed the participants’ gums for the presence of gingivitis, an inflammatory condition marked by redness and tendency to bleed. Participants with the highest blood levels of 25-hydroxyvitamin D were the least likely to display signs of gingivitis. In fact, the association between vitamin D levels and gingivitis incidence appeared to be linear over the entire range of blood levels. This association was similar even in relation to other factors such as gender, ethnic groups, and age.30
The scientists noted that vitamin D may reduce susceptibility to gingivitis by exerting anti-inflammatory effects, and postulated that gingivitis may provide a useful clinical model for further investigation into the anti-inflammatory effects of vitamin D.30
Promoting Bone Health
One of vitamin D’s greatest contributions to health is promoting strong, healthy bones. Vitamin D deficiency is associated with skeletal diseases characterized by weak bones, such as rickets in children and osteomalacia and osteoporosis in adults.22
Vitamin D combined with calcium supplementation is widely known to help decrease postmenopausal bone loss and prevent osteoporosis.31,32 Furthermore, vitamin D combined with calcium can help decrease the risk of hip and non-vertebral fractures.32
Osteoporosis prevention may optimally begin early in life. In a retrospective study, investigators compared prepubescent females who received oral vitamin D in infancy to those who did not. Girls who received vitamin D had significantly increased bone mineral density compared to those who did not receive the vitamin.33
While commonly thought of as a female disease, osteoporosis affects men as well. Osteoporosis and associated fractures are increasingly prevalent in men, and mortality rates following major fractures are higher in men than in women.34 As with women, osteoporosis prevention in men should begin in youth and continue in adulthood, using vitamin D, calcium supplementation, and physical activity. Bone density screening may be an important tool in assessing osteoporosis risk.
While early detection and monitoring of osteoporosis have advanced greatly, most osteoporosis patients are not treated for the cause of their fractures, nor are those who are at most risk being placed on preventive medical programs.35 In light of the proven cost effectiveness of osteoporosis prevention using vitamin D, calcium, and weight-bearing exercise, this apparent disregard is highly alarming. Enormous sums of money are spent on osteoporosis-specific pharmaceutical drug development and marketing, yet millions of Americans do not receive adequate preventive treatment that costs literally cents a day.
Alleviating Musculoskeletal Pain
Low levels of vitamin D are associated with persistent, non-specific musculoskeletal pain, according to investigators at the University of Minnesota Medical School. Re-searchers conducted a cross-sectional study of 150 patients, aged 10-65, who presented to a primary care clinic over the course of two years with the complaint of persistent, non-specific musculoskeletal pain. Serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels were analyzed to assess vitamin D status.36
Ninety-three percent of the patients demonstrated deficient levels of vitamin D, and 28% were considered severely deficient. Five patients had vitamin D levels that were too low to detect. Particularly severe vitamin D deficiency was noted in young women, East African patients, and African-Americans.36
The research team concluded that all patients—regardless of gender or age—with chronic, non-specific musculoskeletal pain are at high risk of suffering from unrecognized vitamin D deficiency. Since osteomalacia is a known cause of chronic, generalized pain, doctors should screen all patients with such symptoms for vitamin D deficiency.36 Vitamin D expert Dr. Michael Holick of Boston University has expressed a similar view, noting that vitamin D deficiency is often misdiagnosed as fibromyalgia.37
Preventing Falls in the Elderly
In elderly adults, falls occur frequently and are associated with significant morbidity and mortality.38 Research suggests that vitamin D may help prevent these dangerous falls.
Cross-sectional studies have shown that elderly adults with higher serum levels of vitamin D demonstrate a lower number of falls, as well as increased muscle strength.39 One meta-analysis found that vitamin D supplementation helped reduce the risk of falling by more than 20%.38 A randomized, controlled trial found that three months of supplementing with 1200 mg of calcium and 800 IU of vitamin D3 daily reduced the risk of falling by 49% in adults in a long-term geriatric care facility.39
Vitamin D is typically well tolerated in adults at doses up to 2000 IU daily, with some research indicating that even higher levels up to 10,000 IU daily may be used safely without adverse effects.22,53 Excess vitamin D can lead to symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, poor appetite, constipation, and weakness.22 Vitamin D is contraindicated in individuals with elevated blood calcium levels or hypercalcemia.21 Individuals with kidney disease and people who use digoxin or other cardiac glycoside drugs should consult a physician before using supplemental vitamin D.21
Once considered little more than a compound that promotes healthy bones, vitamin D is now recognized as an important weapon in the fight against cancer. Its many other health-promoting effects include protecting muscle strength and modulating autoimmune disease. Optimizing vitamin D status through supplementation and prudent sun exposure should be a cornerstone of every health maintenance program.
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